Back From Sabbatical – A Report

This January, on my birthday, I was persuaded by a Christian couple to consider taking a sabbatical from all forms of ministry. I was asked to take this sabbatical and reflect upon my heart for ministry. I was asked to see whether I have a genuine love for the Lord and His people or is it other reasons like popularity, which are drawing me to ministry. Upon praying and consulting with my mentors, I felt it as a direction from God and thus I complied to the plea of these dear friends. I withdrew myself from all forms of ministry with only one exception of blogging at Theoblogy. The reason I was allowed to blog is two-fold. Theoblogy is like a resource center, where I point people to good resources I have come across. Hence all writing there is in the first person plural and all personal opinions or comments are restrained. So over the past 6 months, I have refrained from all opportunities to do any public or private ministry, write any article or paper on any subject, was even less regular at Theoblogy. 

Here is the report on how the sabbatical went.  

With much thanksgiving to our great God, I am glad to let you know that these six months have been much blessed. My fellowship with the Lord has been sweet. Though there were ups and downs in my spiritual fervor, the Lord's faithfulness constantly attended me, blessing me with a fresh love for and assurance of faith in Him. I love the Word of God, not just preaching or teaching it, but just love it. To ponder over the Word of God and be filled with wonder over the God of the Word has been a rich experience all through out this period. I am fully convinced of my calling to preach this Word. Oh yes I want to herald the Word, simply because it is worth preaching it. The magnificence of the Son of God in this Book is constraining me to preach. I want to herald the gospel for the people of God to receive grace and for the glory of God. However I don't have to preach, to love the Word. I love the Word whoever be heralding it. The past 6 months of silence has given me much evidence of my heart beating passionately  at the proclamation of the Word. All praise be to God in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Some of the crucial lessons I have learnt in the past 6 months are as follows :

A Gospel-centered worldview :- The gospel is not just for unbelievers to be saved, but for believers to be growing in the grace of our Lord. Though this is something I have come to know from last year, much clarity has come as to what it means to be gospel-centered in inter-personal relationships. I am fully convinced that for a Christian, when it comes to human relationships - whether parent-children, husband-wife, pastor-church or Christian-Christian or Christian-Unbeliever, the principle that helps him to conduct himself in a godly way is nothing but the gospel truth of justification by grace alone. The truth of God accepting sinners not on the basis of their performance, but rather on the performance of the Lord Jesus Christ for them, is absolutely crucial for any relationship to work out properly. All tension in human relationships is arising from our performance-driven evaluation of other people. However if we were to look at other people and act in light of the gospel - then we would accept and love people, not because of their performance, but in spite of their performance, seeing them as God sees, perfect in Christ Jesus. This is very true in our relationship with other Christians, who are clothed in Christ Jesus with a perfect righteousness. This understanding helps me to be love my brethren, even though there are a million shortcomings in them. My love for people is thus not on the basis of their performance, but rather I accept them in Christ. I am so able to fellowship with people who are the most different from me. I am by no means compromising any doctrinal standards of mine, yet I can be gracious and friendly at the same time to people who differ from me. Like Tim Keller says, its when the gospel is intellectually coherent and existentially melting that real change happens in believers. I believe it is happening in me.

A sweet confidence in the blessed ministry of the Holy Spirit in my battle against sin :- The distinct experience of the Christian life is the experience of having the Spirit in us. Though a non-Pentecostal and non-Charismatic, I fully believe in the inevitable role of the Spirit in living the Christian life. Reading the Puritans has been a tremendous blessing to me. I am sorry to say, that most Pentecostals and Charismatics think that before the Pentecostals came to the scene, the Christian church has largely been ignorant of the Spirit. This is simply a historic nonsense. The largest, the lengthiest and the best book, with painstaking details on the person and work of the Holy Spirit, to be ever written in the history of the church, was not written by any Pentecostal or Charismatic, but by the Puritan John Owen, my favorite Puritan author. He was undoubtedly the greatest of all Puritan authors, though his language be dense and at times archaic. Meditative reading of his books is simply the most beneficial thing a Christian can do in his spare times. By reading the Puritans I have come to learn the Holy Spirit like never before. Oh when the thick dark fumes of Pentecostalism was lifted up, I saw with ever increasing clarity the sweet, strengthening and faith building ministry of the Spirit. It is the Spirit which makes the Word real to us, gifts us with illumination, causes to produce in us the right affections in accordance with the Word and leads us to walk in light of the Word. Oh how I bless the Father for His gift of the Holy Spirit.

God of the gospel is the gladness in all my rejoicing :- If God were to withdraw His sweet fellowship from me, then my life would drown to be the most depressing one in the world. Greatest of all friends, the best of all earthly leisure, the sweetest of all melodies, the profoundest of all earthly truths would not be able to restore my joy. Through painful and dry patches of the Sabbatical, I learned one awesome truth : if I have God, I have my joy and therefore I need to have God in everything, for me to enjoy anything. This truth causes me to long for Him, more than anything else in all aspects of life. What drives me to do so, is His knowledge I have come to taste through His gospel. The essence of all my joy is thus God Himself, as and only revealed in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

To aspire to be a steward and never an owner of any material wealth in this world :- This happened while studying some missionaries and also during personal reflections on my own calling to India. It occurred to me that I am called to be a steward and never to own anything as such in this world. In the providence of God I might own many things, yet I am to aspire to be a steward only. It is such men that God blesses with enough resources to reach the world with the gospel and enlarge their tents of influence. The financial conditions in the past 6 months were tailor-made to teach me this lesson. I praise God for the abundance and the scarcity through which He lead me.

The importance of reading gospel-rich books, mostly from the bygone age :- Though I have always been appreciative of books from the past, the sabbatical gave me much time to engage with many of these books in a more detailed way. Two resolutions were made during the sabbatical regarding long-term reading plans – (i). To read all the works of the Reformer, Martin Luther - for he knew the centrality of the gospel of justification by grace and how to apply it to all of life.  (ii). To read all the works of the Puritan divine, John Owen - for he was Christocentric in all his writings and had one main pastoral thrust, namely universal or entire holiness of the reader. The following are the books I began to work on during this sabbatical - 1.More Than Conquerors - a study of the book of revelation by William Hendriksen. Joined by my dearest companion in the Lord, I decided to be in a 200 day study through the book of revelation during these six months. We thought of finishing it, however we are yet to accomplish it.  2.Mortification of Sin in Believers by John Owen, This is the best book I have ever read on killing sin. I would highly recommend it to anyone interested in pursuing holiness, the gospel-centered way. 3. 1689 London Baptist Confession - though not a book, it is the confession of faith held dear by Particular Baptists (men like C.H Spurgeon, John Bunyan, William Carey etc). Theologically I cannot identify with anyone more closely than with the Particular Baptists and hence the reason behind the studying of this confession. The confession systematically arranges key doctrines of the Bible and thus studying it lets one learn the Bible topically. In addition to these books, I read the writings of many others too. All the literature I worked on these 6 months have one thing in common - they were written by authors who knew very well the centrality and sufficiency of the gospel to build believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. Praising God for helping me see and savor the glory of Christ in His gospel, through these books.

Areas for improvement :

I have listed below some of the areas for improvement in my life and how I hope to tackle them in my gospel-driven piety.

  • Moodiness - to be less moody and have emotions that are in-line with the hope of the gospel.
  • Despair - to be less disappointed over past failures, but be driven by the promises of the gospel of God's grace.
  • Critical Spirit - to be less judgmental of human shortcomings (whether in me or others) but be affirming the evidences of grace (both in me and others).
  • Temperament - to be less irritated by weak and difficult people, but be tender and kind, in light of the condescending grace of the Lord towards me as revealed in His gospel.
  • Patience - to be less grumbling over life's circumstances, but be patient knowing the gospel truth of the Sovereign orchestration of all things for my good and that the God who did not spare His own Son, will not withhold any good thing from me.
  • Bitterness - to be less angry, but be forgiving, knowing how much I have been forgiven by His Sovereign Grace in the gospel.
  • Thankfulness - less taking for granted anything or anyone, but be always moved by gratefulness, flowing from the knowledge of His love in the gospel.
  • Guilt - to be less scared to confront sin, knowing the freedom of the gospel that there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
  • Boasting - less boasting over earthly and human things, knowing all my boast is in the Lord, by whose perfection I stand accepted before the throne of grace.

By no means is this a comprehensive report on all that I went through and learned during the sabbatical. Anyhow I feel whatever I have written is sufficient to give a good picture of it. As I end this sabbatical, I look forward to meaningful service to our Savior. I have four writing assignments to work on for the rest of the year. Three of which are to be developed and presented to different Evangelical organizations for their ministerial use. The fourth one is to be developed part of an ongoing project at Beacon to develop papers on being gospel-centered. Each of these theological papers would be published later in this site. In all this, my sincere prayer is that the supremacy and sufficiency of the gospel, would be passionately heralded, for the treasuring of God  at any cost, in Jesus Christ.  Amen


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By Jay Dharan
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